Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s initial proposal for a high-speed, 35-mile “Loop” tunnel between Baltimore and Washington took a step forward in the process toward government approval with the release of a environmental assessment by federal regulators.
But the “Loop” in the draft environmental impact statement released last week is a far cry from the “Hyperloop” Musk initially described. And some in the community question whether the costly project makes any sense and will ever get built.
Here’s a look at the scaled-back proposal, by the numbers:
150 mph driverless cars, instead of 700 mph pods
While the twin tunnels would be designed to be able to accommodate Musk’s proposed 700 mph Hyperloop vacuum-tube pods in the future, it first would use autonomous electric vehicles — battery-powered, driverless cars with a top speed of 150 mph, allowing the trip to be completed in about 15 minutes.
Once lowered into the ground, the vehicles “would accelerate into a ‘spur’ or tunnel offshoot, like a freeway on-ramp, before quickly merging into the Main Artery Tunnel,” according to the environmental assessment.
[ 'It can be done': Futuristic Japanese maglev train could revolutionize travel from DC to Baltimore, and beyond ]
1,000 passengers in each direction per day — ‘with additional capacity’
The main artery tunnels eventually could handle as many as 100,000 riders per day in each direction, according to The Boring Co., Musk’s tunneling firm.
But the footprint of the first proposed Loop station in Washington is too small for that many passengers, it acknowledged. Instead, at first, the multi-billion-dollar project would carry only 1,000 riders per day in each direction — roughly equal to the capacity of a single six-car, bi-level MARC train.
“Therefore, upon construction of the proposed Project, the system would only support 1,000 riders per day per direction, with additional capacity potentially added later through the construction of additional Loop Stations,” the environmental assessment says. “The locations, quantity, and size of potential future Loop Stations are unknown.”
[ The Baltimore Sun went to Japan to ride the maglev — and studied the plan to build one in Maryland ]
Two stations, 70 ventilation shafts
The Evening Sun
The Loop would start with one entrance near Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore and another near New York Avenue in Northeast D.C., and the tunnels would require up to 70 ventilation shafts, which eventually could become additional stations, according to the environmental assessment.
At least six federal, state, local government approvals needed
In addition to a cost that is expected to be in the billions of dollars, with no official cost estimate included in the assessment, the project would require the support of the Baltimore, Maryland and District of Columbia departments of transportation as well as the National Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.
It also could face opposition from environmental and other authorities.
One state legislator, Baltimore Del. Robbyn Lewis, a Democrat and transit advocate, tweeted that the proposal “would be funny, if it weren’t so absurd.”
“At a time when Maryland should be doubling down on MARC & light rail expansion, we're wasting precious resources on ‘hyperloop,’” wrote Lewis, calling it “utter nonsense.”
The project, however, has drawn initial support from Gov. Larry Hogan, who said on Facebook he was “incredibly excited” to support the project proposed by Musk, founder of the electric car company Tesla and the rocket firm SpaceX.
The state granted Musk’s Boring Co. a utility permit to dig tunnels in the state in October 2017 with Hogan’s office saying the state embraces innovation.